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Part 4: Self-Denial for Eternal Joy

“…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, ESV)

Let’s consider the 4 short phrases in this verse, one at a time.

  1. “If anyone would come after me.” Another translation says, “if anyone wishes to come behind me.”  That is to say, “If you are going to follow me and become my disciple, you are going to have to come into formation behind me and follow me to where I am going.”  This is essential to understanding the Christian life.  The minute we become Christians, we have surrendered our own lifestyle choices into the hands of Jesus.  We have concluded that we no longer own our lives, but have ceded all future and present choices to Him.  He will determine how we live.  We now say, “not my will, but thine be done.”
  2. “Let him deny himself.” Self-denial is the key to following Jesus.  We will have to say no to the old nature, or what Paul calls, “the flesh”. Self-indulgence must be forsaken.
  3. “Take up his cross.” This is an image that would have been easily understood in Jesus’ day.  The image is of a condemned man forced to pick up his cross to the place of his execution.  In short, Jesus commands His disciples not only to deny themselves, but also to abandon their rights to their own lives.  If it is a choice between self-preservation and following Jesus, true Christians conclude they would gladly die in faithfulness to their master.
  4. “And follow me.” When Jesus commands, the only answer of the Christian is, “yes.”  He leads, we follow.  He commands, we obey.  He directs, we receive direction with delight.

It is possible to hear the words of Jesus in terms of either drudgery or as a doctrine of salvation by works.  And some do.  In response, they argue that this is the ideal, but that we might not be able to follow it.  But not to worry, for Jesus died for our sins.  And so, from this perspective, even if we don’t deny ourselves and pick up our cross, we are still saved.

But could we keep the words of Jesus by faith? Indeed, I think we can.  Read carefully what Jesus says immediately after He makes these commands“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”  (Luke 9:24-25).


Let’s concentrate on the promises.  Jesus promises that all self-denying cross bearers will eternally save their lives.  On the other hand, those who indulge their own flesh with its cravings for the things of this life, will eternally forfeit their lives.  It is, according to Jesus, a matter of eternal joy.

Consider the following example.  Let’s assume you are young, and you have just come into $40,000.  Two options lie before you.  One option is that you could spend that money and buy the car you had always wanted.  What a treat.  The other option comes from an investment advisor who tells you he has a guaranteed investment that will turn your $40,000 into $40,000,000 in 20 years.  Which would you choose?  One choice is an immediate reward, that in 20 years will be rusting in a junk yard somewhere.  The other is a long-term reward that will bring you financial freedom for the rest of your life.

But you might say, perhaps the entire choice is not one of an immediate vs. long-term reward, but whether or not the long-term promise is secure.  After all, the world is full of false promises made by less than savoury individuals.  And so, before you make a choice as to what to do with your $40,000, you choose to investigate whether the long-term promise is a scam or a genuine opportunity.

For this reason, the person seeking to decide what to do with the command of Jesus to surrender all their desire to self-indulgence over to the will of Jesus, will seek to investigate if the promise that has been made is true.  It is a matter of the trustworthiness of Jesus.  If His promise of eternal and endless delight is true, only the fool would refuse His command to follow Him.  The entire question can’t be, “how hard is this?”  Rather, the question is, “how trustworthy is the promise?”

For this reason, every sacrifice our faith requires of us is based on faith.  If the promise is sound, you will throw your life away to receive Jesus.  You will conclude that it is like the man who found a treasure hidden in a field, who in his joy sold all he had and bought that field.  But if you conclude the promise is not good, or uncertain, you will hesitate to do what Jesus commands.

The question is never one of obedience.  It is always one of faith.  And the evidence for our faith lies in the empty tomb.  But make no mistake.  Everything you do is about whether you believe.

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld is the national Bible teacher at Back to the Bible Canada. He has served as Senior Pastor, church planter, conference speaker and educator, and is known both nationally and internationally for his passion and excellence in expositional preaching and teaching.


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